Prime 25 brings Millennial flair to meat on South Tejon

A few days ago, we sat down with the team from highly anticipated new restaurant Prime 25, which could open on South Tejon Street across from Ivywild School as soon as next week.

Co-owner Chuck Schafer, general manager Alison West, and executive chef Dylan Montanio say the still-under-construction restaurant will offer a sexy steakhouse vibe, fit for the Vegas strip.  The focus is on design details and classic food, with the goal of bringing cohesion between generations of customers.

Future door handles

“Prime 25, is named for ‘prime’ being the best that you can possibly get, and 25 being the internal temperature of a steak between rare to well-done,” says West.  “We’re offering steak, seafood, really creative dishes, top notch cocktails and really well-trained and friendly staff.  Beautiful interior design from copper and steel, to luxurious benches, beautiful granite bar tops.  Lots of really, really beautiful aspects to the restaurant.”

Gorgeous, cohesive lighting fixtures run throughout Prime 25

The concept of Prime 25 is “engulfing the environment of the older and the young,” says West. “A warm, elegant environment, but comfortable as well.”

With the dining room and downstairs bar featuring an open kitchen, there’s a communal air about the setup.  An upstairs private dining area can host more intimate gatherings, complete with sliding barn doors and drapes to create a secluded feel.  If you’re chilling with a group or looking for a casual vibe, the upstairs has its own bar lounge with sofas and a centered fire pit, plus an outside patio with a view of Ivywild School against a mountainous backdrop.

Private dining area(s)
A view from the top

“The upstairs is going to allot for that cool happy hour, late-night menu that’s going to be budget friendly,” says West.

Ivywild School and Millibo Art Theatre right across the way

“There’s really nothing on this little side of our community to go to,” she continues.  “You usually have to go downtown to a big, loud club with banging music. Because of that fact, we are really creating this environment for people on this side of town to go out and have fun.  So we’ll have that nice, limited budget for old or young that just want to come in and relax and do something light.  You can get full service, wherever you like upstairs or downstairs.”

So how expensive are we talking?

“A price point from $30 per person at a minimum to … It’s going to be high,” says West, expanding: “We’re anticipating a couple that comes in that wants to have a nice bottle of wine, a nice entrée, even if they want to share a steak à la carte and a share a couple complements to go with it [can do that].   We don’t want to nickel and dime people and try to get them at this high price.  We want them to just enjoy the flavors that we’re going to have.  Family-style is going to be an option that we want to create.”

Or you can clearly push it up.  “The seafood tower is going to be at a $145 price point,” says West.  “So that’ll be for those two couples that want to come in and just wow and celebrate.  Or you can come in and share an eight-ounce and a couple sides and walk out under $100 typically.  So we’re looking at that aspect of a nice blend.  If you want to come up to the bar and have a nice cocktail and steak tartare you’re not walking out over $50.  You’re going to be able to afford it.”

Some bruschetta and a glass of wine to keep it light–image courtesy Prime 25

Holding the reins in the kitchen is Montanio, a 28-year-old graduate of Pikes Peak  Community College’s culinary program.

Dylan Montanio, executive chef at Prime 25

“This is my home town,” says Montanio.  “I’ve cooked up and down the Front Range, but I haven’t gone all around the world.  I’ve spent most of my time working in restaurants in this town.  Before this, I worked with Altitude Hospitality for about three years, Cheyenne Mountain Resort for about four years, and I was working as a sous chef for Paragon Food Services.”

Montanio looks to his Millennial generation for the “notion of classic service and classic dishes coming back.”  Continuing: “The last 15 years have been about how do we blend east and west and how do we mix that,” the executive chef says.  “And I think people are starting to come full circle.  Back to, how do we just have really wonderful flavors that represent themselves?”

Montanio aims to marry “a blend of old and new” with the goal of surprising patrons. “There’s more than meets the eye,” he says.

Fried Brussels sprouts served with chorizo, cotija, lemon vinaigrette with micro cilantro–image courtesy Prime 25

“I like a lot of Nordic cuisine, a lot of minimalist style cuisine,” says Montanio.  “I think if there are 25 or 30 things on the plate that’s more for the chef.  We’re focused on the customer.  I want customers to really have the experience.

“We’re going with a lot of classic steakhouse fare, a little bit more rustic French cuisine. We have steak tartare and escargot and oysters.  We have bone marrow and pork belly on our appetizers menu.  Steaks, we’re keeping it pretty classic: We’re going with filets.  We have a bone-in filet which is not something you usually see on steakhouse menus; rib-eyes, New York strip and then we’re going to have a prime cut which will be our option to get in wild game: boar, bison, things like that.  So we’ll be able to play with that as we see fit and see what’s available with the season.”

As for seafood:

“Same thing, our fish, that’ll be as seasonal as we can get it.  That’ll change every three or four weeks.  We’ll talk to our fish purveyor and find out what’s the best right now.  I like to stay away from ocean fish, I think, generally large ocean fish tend to be really full of mercury and heavy metals; no marlin, you probably won’t see any blue, yellow-fin tuna on the menu, just because as a chef I think it’s really important to consciously source our ingredients and most of that seafood is not really sustainable anymore or it’s getting to a point where it’s completely overfished.

“I try to do everything I can to source seafood responsibly,” says Montanio.  “Our shellfish program, we have different live oysters coming in every week based off of seasonality and availability; the striped bass is from Alamosa, they have a really nicely managed aquaculture.”

Summer’s version of the striped bass with fried sunchoke, grilled Romanesco, fennel confit and sherry vinegar reduction–image courtesy Prime 25

Steaks and additional seafood items are procured through Seattle Fish Company and Shamrock Foods.  “All the steak is grown in Greeley,”says Montanio.  “Shamrock has their own, really high-end meat program in place.   A really nicely run, clean facility.  For that reason, especially since we have things like steak tartare on the menu, I want to go with something that is absolute top quality.  Usually they start them on grass, finish them on corn for the marbling. It’s a little bit more of a thoughtfully produced product.  The way they handle it is just really, really immaculately done.”

Two lovely rows of steak tartare–image courtesy Prime 25

Other local chops will come from just a stone’s throw across town.  “For pork or bone marrow, we go with Corner Post Meats in Black Forest,” says Montanio [Ed note: See our recent sit-down with Corner Post here.].  “I love using their product and I think they have the best pork I’ve ever used.”

Bone marrow with shaved radishes and gherkins over a bed of greens–image courtesy Prime 25

“All of our produce we do try to source from local, but Colorado only has a 26-week growing season and the variety is not huge,” says Montanio.  “For the winter we actually do alright, all our beets, potatoes, parsnips, broccolini.  That’s all Colorado product.” Ultimately: “We do everything we can to source locally, but that’s not really what we’re focused on. We’re focused on finding the best quality product.”

A classic, French-inspired appetizer: escargot–image courtesy Prime 25

Small, home-made touches also await.  “We’re going to make our own butter for our bread plate, [as well as do] all our pickling and fermenting in-house,” says Montanio.  “That way we have that much more control over the end result and that much more control over the quality of the product.”

–image courtesy Prime 25

“My vision for Prime is that I want us to really be known for our cuisine,” says the chef.  “A lot of what we’re doing isn’t super modern or cutting edge.  We’re focused more on doing everything right: making everything from scratch; making sure what we have on the plate is exactly perfect to complement itself.”

An open kitchen will allow patrons to have a front row seat

Montanio seemingly isn’t  interested in manning the kitchen of a white tablecloth establishment.  He’s more engrossed with curating a kitchen renowned for masterful execution.

“Fine dining’s been done in this town plenty of times and it’s not really ever taken off,” says Montanio.  “It’s because the people around here kind of know what they want.  I’m not trying to rearrange anyone’s perspective, I’m trying to create a kitchen that has just wonderful food, and at the same time is known from the standpoint of the culinarians, I want us to be known as a place where we have a good educational base; a place where we put out really great cooks, when they leave our kitchen, if they decide to.  And when people come in they’re excited to be in our kitchen because they know this is where you want to go, this is where you want to learn.  I’m very focused on education and refining technique.”

Co-owner, Sam Guadagnoli, wasn’t going to allow me to capture him in a portrait, but co-owner, Chuck Schafer was happy to oblige on the stairwell

Co-owner Chuck Schafer is one half of the ownership team that is breathing life into Prime 25.

“I was in the nightclub business forever and had kids at an older age, mellowed me out a little bit,” Schafer says.  “I had a fine dining restaurant in South Beach, Florida that really taught me a lot.  Once I had another child, I realized I can’t travel back and forth and need to spend more time at home.  But I didn’t want to lose the focus of what I learned in Miami, and understood to be better than it’s been presented here.

“Colorado Springs is a little bit behind, we’re always told that, but for what reason I don’t know.  We’re trendsetters too, so I wanted to bring a new twist on our steakhouses here.  It’s not a Ruth’s Chris, it’s not The Famous, and those are great restaurants obviously, but it’s not your typical chophouse.  I wanted to bring more of a Millennial feel along with that traditional.  So I went contemporary and modern with it.  Food-wise everyone is going to serve a steak, but it’s again, back to presentation and the commitment to our food and service.”

Beyond the menu plans and educated staff, the music and ambiance are pillars for the experience.

“With that, it goes further, back to Miami, back to the music,” says Schafer.  “I’m going in a different direction, I’m not going with your typical piano bar.  I want to see “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” and I’m going to put some beat behind that music, so that 30-year old is tapping her foot, but the older folks know the words, and they’re digging it.  So I think that’s going to be our crossing point.

“There is tons of detail. I have 36 speakers going into the place.   Who puts that into a steakhouse?  But the reason why is not to make it loud, [but] to make it perfect.”

Schafer intends on breaking the mould, allowing accessibility to younger patrons and those who are still young at heart.  “When I was younger, I’d walk into The Famous and I felt uncomfortable there,” says Schafer. “The reason why was because people were much older than me, much more wealthy, had their life set.  And I wondered how the hell did they do that?  I’m not in the position to ask so I felt out of place.

“So I know there’s a market for people like used to be like me.  Make it comfortable for the older person and the younger person together.  Focus on both.  The traditional steakhouse patron and the Millennials moving up.  I want to be there, to show them, and bring them what they’ve been looking for.  There’s no reason for them to leave and go to Denver.  We’re going to give them what they want here.”

Beyond reaching out to all age groups, Schafer wants to bridge the supposed notion that women don’t prefer steakhouses.  Enticing the feminine persuasion to choose his spot on a date night because “the vibe is creative, but not over the top,” is a goal for Schafer. “Not Vanderpump,” he says.

The finished design plan for the upstairs lounge–image courtesy Prime 25
The finished design: One side of the downstairs dining room–image courtesy Prime 25

So what libations can we look forward to?

“All the cocktails will be our original recipes, they’re going to change seasonally and they’re going to be paired with a lot of the foods,” says Schafer.  “The wine menu consists of 60 by the bottle and another 20 by the glass.  I feel that’s strong.”

Elsewhere, co-owner and well-known Colorado Springs nightclub owner Sam Guadagnoli has extensive plans for the rebirth of South Tejon.  We got a sneak peak at the full scope of his plans and Prime 25 is just the beginning of the “Prime” enterprise.

Snapping candids of Sam where I could as he shows me the semi-circle booths in the center of the dining room

“Sam Guadagnoli, has so much going on right now,” says Schafer.  “He’s doing a hotel, apartments, he’s got a great vision of what he’s trying to create down here and he’s bought into this. I think that you’re going to see pop up, in the next five, 10 years, more restaurants like us, but I want us to be the first. I want us to be the trendsetter for the city and I think what we’re doing down here is huge.  We’ll be doing another place, called Prime Italian.”

Prime everywhere. Awesome.

“I have a vision of what we’re trying to really create here and I believe I have a solid team to do it and that’s the key,” says Schafer.  “We’re not going to start off with a bang and fizzle, like I see so many places around the world do.  We’re going to start off with a bang and continue growing.  That’s my dream.  I love Colorado and I believe in Colorado.”

[Images: Dionne Roberts]